Long title, isn‘t it? Still, I love the variety of names my favorite lace technique goes by.
The history of tatting is one still not fully documented. First predecessors probably made their way to Europe from the orient during the crusades. From the early 18th century on we have various descriptions of a first technique – knotting – which is found in a variety of encyclopaedias of the time. One of the earliest mentions is in a German one:
Knötgen machen oder knüpffen
Ist eine dem Weibes-Volck gebräuchliche Kunst aus langen gedoppelten weissen Zwirns-fäden durch zusammen Schlingung vermöge eines dazu verfertigten Schiffleins ein Knötgen dicht an das andere zu hengen und anzuschlingen. Woraus hernachmahls Franzen oder auch Trotteln und Quasten an die Fenster-Vorhänge verfertigt werden.
Nutzbares, galantes und curiöses Frauenzimmer-Lexicon, Amaranthes (Gottfried Siegmund Corvinus, Leipzig, 1715)
The author describes the knotting of linen threads into something that resembles a beaded string. These strings were often couched on cushions, there is at least one extant sample of a waistcoat decorated with knotting.
A second variety of knotting developed from the mid-18th century on. Silk threads would be knotted up into small bow-like increments, from which floss fringe would be fashioned. The first decorative shuttles we have stem from this time, they are also widely seen in portraiture and were made from expensive materials as they were not merely tools but adornments.
Somewhen around the turn of the 19th century the knotting technique developed into our modern-time tatting. First descriptions in literature are tangible somewhen in the 1830ies, starting in the 1850ies the technique developed its full potential up to heights a modern tatter wouldn’t think of, when passementerie was imitated by using up to five shuttles.
One of the names always found in connection with early tatting is Mademoiselle Eleanor Riego de la Branchardière who was a prolific authoress describing a plethora of techniques.
One thing is sure about all the arts of knotting with a shuttle: they never were used to earn money. We talk about “demonstrative idleness”, the lady showing off their slender and soft hands, proving she didn’t have to work.
Material and technique
A modern shuttle is about two inches long, the length of a thumb and nicely flat, it is shaped as an oval with two points. Some of these shuttles have little noses or small hooks at one of the points.
The shuttle itself is used to make what we call double knots, a series of half-hitches, on a carrier thread. Typical for tatting is, that these half-hitches are transferred from the working thread to the carrier thread. Sounds complicated, but it is half as difficult when you try it yourself.
A decorative as well as structural element are the picots, little loops of thread that are made by leaving a little space between the knots. These picots are part of the typical tatting look.
Usually smooth crochet thread is used for tatting, though an experienced tatter can work with almost anything.